As the world learned in 1955, you just don’t mess with Rosa Parks.
The history lesson was loudly reasserted on Monday, when the United States Supreme Court cleared the path for the now-90-year-old civil-rights icon to proceed with her lawsuit against the hip-hop duo Outkast for its 1998 hit song “Rosa Parks,” reports Reuters.
By letting stand a lower appeals court ruling, the Supreme Court justices effectively reinstated Parks’s claim of false advertising and publicity against Outkast and three units of the media behemoth Bertelsmann AG: producer LaFace Records and distributors Arista Records and BMG Entertainment.
Parks made headlines worldwide in 1955, back in the days of Southern segregation, when she refused to surrender her seat to a white man and move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Ala. She was subsequently arrested, which, in a defining moment in the civil-rights movement, led to a 381-day boycott of the bus system by African Americans.
The ultimate result of Parks’s defiance was the end of segregation on public transportation — and a catalyst for organized boycotts, sit-ins and demonstrations below the Mason-Dixon line.
As Reuters notes, the Grammy-nominated “Rosa Parks” song was released as part of Outkast’s 1998 album “Aquemini.” While the lyrics don’t mention Parks by name, the chorus sings, “Ah, ha, hush that fuss. Everybody move to the back of the bus.” The album sold more than 2 million copies.
Parks, a Detroit resident (who had approved a 1995 collection of gospel recordings by various artists, “A Tribute to Mrs. Rosa Parks”), sued Outkast and Bertelsmann in 1999, claiming that use of her name without permission constituted false advertising and infringed on her right to publicity.
She also claimed defamation of character and interference with a business relationship.
There’s been no comment yet from Outkast (which was nominated just last week for six more Grammys) nor Bertelsmann on the Supreme Court ruling.